Indiana election a model for pro-public school candidates

There’s a lot of buzz this year about the idea that education could be a winning issue for Democrats in the 2018 election. Candidates who are thinking about highlighting their support for public schools could look for inspiration to the 2012 Indiana election for superintendent of public instruction.

Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, won with a campaign that focused on her support for teachers and her opposition to vouchers and test-based school and educator accountability. In the solidly red state of Indiana, Ritz upset the Republican incumbent Tony Bennett, a hero of the national “education reform” crowd. Her grassroots campaign succeeded even though she was outspent more than 5-to-1.

Glenda Ritz

Glenda Ritz

Yes, Ritz was running to be Indiana’s chief school official, so it made sense that the race focused on education. But education should also be front-and-center in elections for governor and state legislature, offices that makes the laws governing how schools operate.

Ritz won by mobilizing teachers and their friends and supporters. Scott Elliott, then a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, analyzed the results and concluded she won via “a teacher-led movement, online and word-of-mouth, born of frustration with Bennett, his style and his policies.” If that kind of movement can elect a state superintendent, it could elect governors and legislators too.

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Statehouse rally to support public schools

Organizers of this week’s Indiana Statehouse rally in support of public education are touting an “all star” list of speakers. And it’s true: Whoever put together the program did a good job.

The line-up includes parents, retired educators, a school superintendent, a school board member and the president of the Indiana PTA. Many are affiliated with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, an organization of ordinary citizens who believe in public schools.

In a key gesture of bipartisanship, the legislators on the program represent both parties: Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker and Rep. Randy Truitt and Democratic Sen. Tim Skinner and Rep. Vernon Smith. Might Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz join the fun? Her office, after all, is right next door.

And the timing for the rally, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the South Atrium, could hardly be better. House Bill 1003, which expands Indiana’s private-school voucher program and is arguably the most serious threat to public education this session, goes before a Senate committee the next morning.

Unlike the “Ed Reform Rocks” rally staged last week in support of vouchers and charter schools, this event won’t feature 1,000 or more school-age children. As Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts wrote last week on Twitter, “Love to send 16,000 in shirts holding signs but they’re in class.” Continue reading